Preview – Scarlets v Munster

Llanelli Scarlets have been given the ideal boost prior to Friday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final showdown against Munster, with talisman Stephen Jones named in the line-up for the Stradey Park showdown.

It was feared that the Wales skipper would miss the game after suffering a fracture to his wrist during the Six Nations, but he has recovered sufficiently to allow Scarlets boss Phil Davies to name him at fly-half.

“I’ve got no problems whatsoever in naming Stephen in the squad – he is fine, good to go,” explained Davies.

“Stephen is a very influential player, a world class player, and he is very important to us as a team, he’s a great member of the squad, it’s great to have him involved and I’m looking forward to getting a good performance from him.”

Scarlets wing Mark Jones also wins a place in the side after passing a fitness test on a knee injury sustained in training. Matthew Watkins was placed on standby in case Jones failed his fitness test, but he will now start the game from the bench.

“Mark came through the fitness test without any reaction this morning [Thursday], so he will play on Friday,” confirmed a Scarlets spokesman.

Llanelli Scarlets skipper Simon Easterby said he was looking forward to locking horns with his compatriots – and witnessing the contest between the day’s two fly-halves.

“Stephen is a talisman to us, just as [Ronan] O’Gara is for Munster,” said the Irishman.

“It is a massive duel between them and is probably going to shape the game.

“As forwards it will be important to give Stephen the platform, but those two know so much about each other that whoever gets the upper hand will have a major say on the winners of the match.”

Not that Easterby will have any divided loyalties as captain of Llanelli. So much so that the 31-year-old says the banter and war of words started with this Irish teammates weeks ago during the championship campaign.

“I’d be lying to say we haven’t spoken about it and there was a bit of chat,” he added.

“With Paul [O’Connell] not playing, at least there’s one less person not to fall out with.

“For 80 minutes it’s against each other and I will be doing everything in my power to beat them.”

Easterby and the majority of the Scarlets team know all about the agony of losing a home Heineken Cup quarter-final.

The flank played in the home defeats to Perpignan in 2003 and in the hefty 27-10 reverse, again in Llanelli, against Biarritz Olympique the following season.

But with a perfect six-out-of-six in this season’s European group campaign, it’s no surprise to see him confident of success as his side aims to make it third time lucky when the defending champions come to town.

“We are a better side now than we were a couple of years ago but we need to start winning some big home games,” he said.

“There’s more experience in our side now and have played some great stuff this season so we are ready for them.

“And we will have to be to beat a strong Munster side.

“They are a formidable bunch up front and are very well drilled.

“Year in year out they reach the knockout stages and a benchmark for a lot of the teams.

“It doesn’t get much harder than this.”

Form: These two Magners League rivals may be familiar in domestic competition but they have never locked horns in Europe before now. The Scarlets won their last meeting 25-12 at Stradey Park, but don’t take that as a form guide as Munster raise their game for Heineken Cup weekends. The defending European champions were awesome in the Pool stages, winning five matches on the bounce before coming up against a rampant Tigers team in Round 6. They lost their proud unbeaten record at Thomond Park that night and now will be even more determined to show everyone they are still the team to beat in Europe. But it will be no stroll in the park for the Munstermen wh

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